View Full Version : How people started club/dojo?

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07-15-2002, 06:32 AM

I would be interested in finding out how different senseis of varying stature started their club or dojo. Did you start through a health club? University club? rent a space? How did you get students if you were new to an area and didn't have a base?

I would like to start either a club or a small dojo outside of my immediate area and would like to hear about other peoples experience. BTW, I started aikido in 1981-82, and have been training consistantly throughout this time (minus a two year gap for maternity).

Thanks for your help!


07-16-2002, 03:41 AM
Hi Rachel!

Good luck on your project. The way I have heard it raising a kid (this I know about) is actually easy compared to building an aikido dojo from scratch (this I have never done though).

If done in the right way I think it could be a good thing to start by borrowing or renting space in an allready existing judo og jiu-juitsu dojo. That way you will be able to build a group of dedicated students that can help out before you put yourself into a lot of debt. Renting a room is one thing, but paying for mats and creating locker-room facilities, showers etc. is VERY expencive.

Another benefit is that you will get a good idea about what you would like your own dojo to be like.

Also remember that if you are to do this alone, then it will be very hard for you and your familiy. Find someone else who will burn just as much for the idear and who has the time and energy to help you do all the practical things. It is a huge task to create a dojo and you should focus on being the instructor rather than on doing all the tedious tasks of dayly maintenance, managing members files, applying for permits etc etc.

Anyway - I'll keep my fingers crossed for you and hope you will succede.

Hope this helps.

07-16-2002, 06:31 AM
so...erm like wheres your imidiate area?
our sensei opened our club by hiring out my old school hall which has mats (always useful)
and we're taking it from there

07-16-2002, 07:02 AM
Thank you Jorgen and Peter!

Jorgen, the idea of starting within another martial arts dojo is a good idea. I've considered that, but thought it might not fly too well with the Sensei from the other dojo. It is a good idea though. Any suggestion on how to approach a teacher from another art with that prospect?

Peter, it would be the western Detroit suburbs.

Thanks again!

07-22-2002, 10:57 PM
Hello Rachel,

I learned early on that people have this mis-conception of RANK versus ABILITIES. I always get the question, "What rank are you?". Depending on the attitude that it's asked, I usually reply "I TOOK A SHOWER BEFORE CLASS SO I HAVE NO RANK." :rolleyes:

So with that in mind, the first thing I did was to make sure all my dan ranks and instructor certificates were up to date with our honbu dojo. Turns out this was a good move as the location I'm in now requested copies to show I do belong to a reputable organization and didn't just finish watching a Steven Seagal and Bruce Lee marathon.

My first location was located in a Gymnastics studio. In this case, they were also running a pre-school program and needed the extra income. Along with gymnastics, dance and cheerleading, they had a karate teacher who also taugh Tai Chi and then myself. They were very kind as I had no students at the time and we agreed to a percentage. We were covered on their insurance.

My new location is through the Parks and Recreation. The only bummer here is I'd like to expand the hours but can't due to scheduling. No worry though. I had taught a 10 week self defense class for them early on which fortunately got good reviews, so when I approached them about a full-time Aikido program, I had my foot in the door. I also brought with me instant enrollment which was a plus.

My advertising consists primarily of my web site. I estimate about 70+% of my original and current students found me on the web. I also have a small add in the two local phone books. The biggest bang for the buck came just recently. Through the P&R, they advertised to all the local schools that they were offering Aikido. Just like that, my youth program went from 4 to 12, not including my 3 girls.

So far things are working out really well with the P&R. I tried the "OTHER" martial art school thing but most had a bit of an attitude with me being the new kid in town.

Hope that helps ...


07-23-2002, 07:03 AM
Thank you Miranda San for sharing your experience. It is indeed helpful!

07-25-2002, 02:26 AM
Hi Rachel,

The place where I teach is one of those conglomerate dojo. We have 5 seperate arts. Individually none of the arts could afford to have a place as nice as what we have but by coming together we've got a nice spot. I think it's a great way to go if you can find instructors of other arts that can share the vision.

It started with the local Y.M.C.A. Some judo guys started a program down there with the support of the existing kartate programs instructor and other local dojo. Once the mats were in place at the "Y" an aikido class wasn't far behind. You might want to check with the local Y's in Ann Arbor and see if any have a current judo program and if they'd be willing to have an aikido program. There definitely is no money to be made by doing it this way. The "Y" gets the cash and you get a place to train/teach that you don't have to pay for or get insurance on. It did take a while for the judo and aikido programs to grow big enough to warrant moving to our own place but it did happen.

Good luck, hope it works out.


07-25-2002, 06:32 AM
Hi Bronson, and others who have helped with this. Please let me clarify this so that I don't tick off any of my Ann Arbor-land friends ;)

I am hoping to have a club, or very small dojo outside of my hometown (A2) which would in no way conflict with my home dojo which I hope to keep training at (an absolutely terrific dojo I will add). It would be in the western Detroit suburbs or Brighton area and I wouldn't have anyone to start with, which is what makes it really scary to do.

So, the question of course is; how do you start something when you have no one who has any experience? It would be great if someone who had trained before and was no longer training (but interested in starting again) joined the club, but if that didn't happen, how do you go about building a base?

The ideas about the YMCA, other martial arts dojos and health clubs are great! Thank you to all who have contributed their experiences, I sincerely appreciate it.

07-25-2002, 08:43 AM
Aikido is rapidly growing. IMHO, it may be easier to start in another dojo, through and health club, the Ys, or parks and recreation department. Saves you the over head. See if the local high school or community college is interested in starting a club or offering a class.

For publicity, most papers will accept and print press releases if you can offer the community something. Writing a regular column, or at least submit articles, to local small weekly papers, about how Aikido can change lives can get you free publcity too. Do some demonstrations, talks, and presentations.

Just some thoughts. I do not have my own school (just a perpetual student), but I have my own business.

Did you say Detroit? I grew up in Pontiac.

Until again,


08-15-2002, 11:42 AM
Hello Rachel,

How is your dojo search/start going?

I am in a similar situation as you, and I live in Brighton.

Unfortunatly a few months back my Sensei, George Symanns passed away from cancer at a too young age of 50. After the shock had warn off a few of us decided it would be a shame to let the school and the spirit of our Sensei die. We thought we owed it to Sensei to pass on the knowledge that was so valuable to us in our daily lives and at least bring the current kyu's up to a level where Sensei wished before he passed. So, at this point I have been teaching out of my backyard, the same way Symanns Sensei did when I first started back in 89. The other two of Sensei's first Shodans are doing the same in Livonia and they now taking on new students.

I like training outside but my main concern is liability insurance for a club. Sensei had never been too concerned about insurance as all the students were word of mouth and we never had a problem. Althought this day and age I'm a little more concerned about suets and such, but I think there are quite a few neighborhood teenagers who would really enjoy Aikido and I really love teaching.

Sorry for the long post. But, what I'm saying a dojo could be as close as your backyard.

Please feel free to drop me a note if you start something or want to come by and throw me around the mat for a few.

Take care and best of luck,


08-15-2002, 12:52 PM
Sorry for the long post. But, what I'm saying a dojo could be as close as your backyard.
Backyard dojos are an interesting thing. The first school I was a part of began in someone's back yard. Another dojo that I helped out with moved to a park for awhile before finding a home, where rent and a poor location helped lead to it's demise. I also believe some of the local Jiyushinkai people are working out in a similar situation.

I bet this is a lot more common than we think and why the hell not?

08-15-2002, 12:52 PM
Hi Tom,

boy, we are indeed neighbors! I live in Ann Arbor and was looking for a space in the Brighton area. I found a situation in Milan, about twenty minutes south of Ann Arbor and will be starting the club in September. I am working on lining up liability insurance right now. If you want further information, please send me an email and we can talk further.

Thank you, and everybody else who has been so supportive, for your help. I'll let you all know how it is progressing once I've got it together and have actually started.



08-15-2002, 02:30 PM

I also meant to say how sorry I am to hear that your sensei passed away, and at such a young age. It is more than laudable that you are trying to keep his legacy going. What style of aikido do you practice?



08-15-2002, 03:13 PM
I am working on lining up liability insurance right now.
Rachel, I would be most appreciative on knowing what you set up. Please drop me line once things are setup.

Thanks ...

08-15-2002, 04:26 PM
Hi Steven,

I sent you the information, it should be in your mailbox.:)

08-15-2002, 07:29 PM

...Did you start through a health club? University club? rent a space? How did you get students if you were new to an area and didn't have a base?

I would like to start either a club or a small dojo outside of my immediate area and would like to hear about other peoples experience.

Hello Ms Massey

The two dojos that I train at share space with others.

One is a Police and Citizen Youth Club (Like a community hall run by the Police Department). We use the space that is used by the Gymnasts. The disadvantages: a sprung gymnastic floor...not good on the knees for suwari waza; sprung mat is too soft and forgiving so you dont pick up any mistakes when doing ukemi and the mats can get dirty because various groups use the floor. Advantages: we're covered by the Police Department's public liability - our dues are include an amount for insurance; membership dues are low (I think about $120 AUD for 10 weeks for three sessions a week); the administration and advertising is handled by the Policy and Citizen Youth Club Adminsitrators (PCYC) and access to other PCYC Clubs and facilities.

As for getting new students, the PCYC arranges for ads in the local newspapers and letterbox drops about the activities at the PCYC. Otherwise its been through word of mouth. We did do some demonstrations. So far we have about 30 people on the mat for our sessions and we have been going for about 8 years.

The other dojo that I train at, the Sensei shares with another group (Tomiki practitioners). His mats are on the floor but the dojo is registered to the Tomiki Sensei. He pays a hire charge for the nights that he conducts classes. I pay $50 AUD per month for two sessions per week. THis is a smaller club with about 5 people on the mat but the training is intensive and at times rigourous. He has a entry in the local telephone book. He doesnt actively seek new students - its usually by word of mouth. I tend to recommend to other practitioners to contact this sensei if they wish to have additional training.

As for public liability insurance, he organises that.

Hope this helps. Best of luck with your endeavours and if I am ever stateside and in the neighbourhood, I would love to train at your dojo.

08-15-2002, 08:19 PM
Hello Rachel,

Thank you very much for the kind words.

I'm glad to hear everything sounds like it's progressing nicely. I would be honored to have the opportunity to visit your dojo once you open.

If you wouldn't mind I'd like to hear any information about liability insurance for dojos. Did you happen to make any contact with a local supplier for training mats? Love to hear about that too....thanks. (Sorry I couldn't access your email)

I study Aikido Yoshinkai, my Sensei's Sensei was Takashi Kushida out of Ann Arbor.

Best regards,


08-15-2002, 08:47 PM
Hi Tom and Mayland,

Thank you both for all your input and advice. I certainly appreciate it, and everyone else who has been sending me advice through this forum. It is really helpful.

Tom, please send me an email for the information. My email address is rachmass@provide.net.

Yoshinkai aikido is very big in our area! Kushida Sensei has certainly made a big impression on many people. I hear nothing but good things.

all the best,


08-19-2002, 11:19 AM
Hi Steven,

I sent you the information, it should be in your mailbox.:)
Greetings form never never land Rachel,

Not home at the moment so I apologize for the delay. I did check my mail however and didn't see anything from you. aysdojo@seikeikan.com is a good addy to use. I'll be home tonight and will check from my system.

Peace ...

09-13-2002, 01:07 PM
Right now I'm renting space from a judo/ju-jitsu dojo for one night a week, when they would normally be closed. If we get more people, we might be able to expand the classes to two nights per week. We started with two students in the area and now have an average class of five.

Perhaps this is too basic and you've already done this. Write up a business plan and a maketing plan. I've found the numbers for dojos are hard to find, but you can guestimate the figures. Looking at other MA schools in the area can give you an idea of the market situation.

I've just finished the business plan and have started working on the marketing plan. I wish I had thought of this when I started a year ago.

Good luck with your dojo!


09-13-2002, 02:05 PM
Thank you very much Mr. Ehara!

No business plan here other than advertising and trying to get folks in the door. Right now I've got two possible spaces to rent, but I am going to go the route of an actual dedicated space (build it and they will come philosophy) due to my limitations of moving mats. I'll know within the next week perhaps.



09-15-2002, 08:25 AM
I purchased my home (with 2 acres, approx 80,000 sq. ft. of land attached) because I knew I would build a dojo...someday.

After the storm of the century blew through and felled trees and out buildings I was standing in my back yard when I heard a voice say "If you build it, they will come."

It wasn't my VCR on overdrive, it was Dennis Hooker, my closest friend. We got out a 100 foot tape and some stakes and layed it out on the spot.

That was twelve years ago. The students came. I have offered the as-builts and engineered drawings for free to anyone who would like to re-create this dojo. Several have. They are still available somehwere in my cluttered office.

It takes commiting a moment, no more. Just don't think about where the money will come from or if you will succeed or fail. If you are a Sensei, and no one can determine that but you, you must take the first step and then proceed, no matter what. I've seen great dojos rise in surprising places and seen what should have been great dojos fall from surprising heights. Just go forward and believe. Think of all the fun and profit just out there in front of that rainbow...

09-15-2002, 11:57 AM
Mr. Linden,

Thank you for these comments! I concur fully. Sounds like it has worked out well for you, and I hope to write back one day, (maybe twelve years later too), and say how well it has worked. I have no idea of I build it, that they will come, but I have to give it a try.

All the best,


09-15-2002, 02:06 PM
I heard a voice say "If you build it, they will come."....If you are a Sensei, and no one can determine that but you, you must take the first step and then proceed, no matter what.
And from first hand experience I can testify as to what a nice dojo it is.

A fly in the ointment, though, what provisions do you make for insurance? I noticed you had me sign no wavers when I visited...

Sherman Byas
09-16-2002, 08:59 AM
Rachel, good luck!

Check out this article concerning insurance.


Don't be afraid to call the author, he's very helpful and will answer any questions you have.

What kind of mats are you using?

09-16-2002, 11:07 AM
Hi Sherman,

Thanks for the info, although I didn't find the place about insurance (i've got insurance lined up, maybe you are referencing the previous post from Don Modesto).

Using a combination of Swain (the ones I like best), and Zebra (second best) mats.

Still trying to work things out on a space....

Thanks again,


Sherman Byas
09-16-2002, 02:52 PM

1. Scroll down in the right frame and there's an article about insurance.

2. Why a mat combination? And why Swain over Zebra?

New dojo opening? Road Trip! (that movie is so funny)

09-16-2002, 04:27 PM
Hi Sherman,

Actually, what I did with the mats was buy a combination and roll around on them to find out what I liked best (on a concrete floor in my basement). There were some other mats I really liked, but they were very pricey. Zebra are really good too, its just that the Swain mats "felt" a wee bit better to my old bod....

Thanks for the info on how to find the article. I'll read it after I finish chatting here.